Computers-then and now: Part#1

Other day, I happened to go for an evening walk after long time. Usually, I walk in the morning. During that evening walk, I met a gentleman who is now living his retirement life.  He used to work for weather office. After the formal exchange of pleasantries, he asked me as to what I was up to, to which I replied that I am into cloud technology these days. His curiosity was aroused and asked me seemingly a naive question as to what is this cloud technology. I always find it fascinating to talk about computers and related technology to lay-people in the language they can understand and relate. But here the case was different. I knew that he was programming in FORTRAN as part of one of his responsibilities in weather office, and he had seen earliest of the computers till the evolution of personal computers and to some extent Internet. So with all that in my mind, I explained him about cloud in the way he can relate and understand, and he was able to relate and understand. We went on talking of evolution of computers in general and he fondly went down the memory lane of his early days with computers, about which I encouraged him write about.

This incident prompted me to think of putting some of that evolution the way I have seen it. Anyone who has spent a while in technology space, is sure to be nostalgic about how technology has changed and meta-morphed over time. I know I am using a medium of blog. to talk about it. I don’t intend to capture all my nostalgia in one blog. This might need a series of blogs. At the same time, I don’t want to sound it like history of computing in India here, for, that is already captured at number of other places in detail.

My association with computing and technology in general started in 1986. That’s when I enrolled myself into undergraduate program in computer science. Ours was first batch. The lab was boot-strapping. It was hosted temporarily in the labs of Physics department! Our lab initially consisted of only one IBM compatible personal computer with horizontal CPU box, and a CRT monitor sitting on top of it. The CPU having a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive. The whole machinery was running MS-DOS. I believe it has 640 KB RAM, and I don’t remember the RAM size. And I believe it was running Intel 8086 processor. No Internet, no printer, no web cam, no mouse! We learnt COBOL programming(Micro Focus Cobol), Turbo Pascal and Turbo C programming on it. I still remember using Amkette and Verbatim floppy disks for storing data and our programming assignments. Yes, I agree, my association did not begin with punch cards, or those large mainframe computers, or even with operating systems such as CP/M. On the digital electronics side, I remember learning programming 8085 microprocessor and peripheral devices, on an educational kit. and 8051 micro-controller that time.

We got dBase III in 1989 and used that for our project. I remember our computers being hit by a virus called C-Brain that year. We also connected two computers using serial connector and carried our experiments on data communications using RS-232 protocol by programming over serial port. No LAN as yet. I also saw dot matrix printer also for the first time that year. This one was from Epson. We also got propitiatory Unix system from Zenith, if I remember correctly, that year. It might have been Xenix-a variant of Unix. There were about 6-8 terminals connected to one Unix CPU box which was in a separate area called server room. BTW, the lab also got air-conditioner, mainly for that server room. That is where we did our assignments on Lex and YACC. That Unix box had DBMS called Unify.

Later that year, I took a job as an instructor at computer training institute where I saw 20-25 computers for the first time in my life. All running still MS-DOS, no LAN, with floppy drive. I also saw word processing software called WordStar, and also spreadsheet software called Lotus 123. I also started developing menu driven applications using Turbo C, dBase III, FoxBase, Clipper on console based monitors. No MS-Windows yet for me though first few versions were out. Though I remember having a glance at Apple Mac machine at a local Mac shop in Pune early 1990, about which I have written here.

In the next blog in this series, I will write about my introduction to Apple Macs and also MS-Windows and yes those 3 1/2 inch floppy drives. Some evolution here! This was around 1991. Stay tuned till then!


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